Printing Co-ordinator, The Birmingham Mail (2008)

Location : Birmingham

You worked for a Birmingham newspaper in the late forties. What was your job role?
I worked for the Birmingham Mail. Based in New Street and Needless Alley. It was a very large building. I was in charge of the little local newsagents. Used to ring in to adjust the number of papers that they required.
They were only small newsagents. The bigger ones, of course, had so many papers, they didn't need to adjust their numbers. A very interesting job. Permanently on the phone. When things were changed, I'd ring down to the department that was sending out the newspapers in the vans, for them to adjust the quantity there.

How old were you when you started the job?

Were you nervous about using the phones?
Not particularly, because I had been using the phone at my previous job, but it was a bit of a responsibility to know that if I made a mistake, it was my fault.

What were the implications if you did make a mistake?
Generally, all the men in the office would tell me off severely but then it was done with. The men were all older. They spoilt me to bits to start with, but I soon learnt the job and I was on an equal footing then. They were all very, very pleasant.
I was the only woman in that particular office, with twenty other men.
What was your daily routine?
My mode of transport was trams, which shook you to death! By the time you got into town, you were really shaky. From Northfield, along the Bristol Road, into town.
I had my breakfast before I went. It took a good half an hour journey into town on the tram. Very cold. Very shaky.

Did you travel with anyone else you knew?
No. I didn't know anyone at that time that was going in the same direction as me. I like nature and I was just absorbed with what I could see on route. The tram line was in the centre of the road, of course, and there were trees lining the whole of the route into Birmingham. Very nice, very green and pleasant.

Were there more trees around then than now?
Yes, especially Bourneville have built a lot of flats along the Bristol Road, so a lot of trees have been taken down.

Do you mean Bourneville, the chocolate manufacturers?
Yes. And Cadbury Manor Farm is fortunately still there. They haven't demolished that, so that's good.

Were trams reliable?
Very. Far more reliable than the buses. We used to have an awful lot of fog then and, on several occasions, my boss at The Mail would say, "Look at the weather. You'd better leave early to get home.
And, on just a couple of occasions, I recall that even the trams had slowed down considerably. And so many people had the same idea, to get home by tram. So I'd walk along the tram lines so that I knew where I was, not on the roads, you know. So I did get home, in safety. I'd walk along the lines, knowing, Well, I can't go wrong. I can feel the rails! You couldn't see more than four or five yards.

At this time were you living with your husband or with your parents?
I lived with my parents. I was married at eighteen. For the first twelve years I lived with my parents because you had to be on a housing list with the estate, with the council. My husband had just come out of the forces, neither of us had got any money, so my parents were golden. Looked after us very well.

Were you excited to go out to work at nineteen?
Yes. I enjoyed going out. At the end of my time at The Mail, I'd been there nearly four years when I found that I was pregnant. I worked for a little while but, jolting on the tram every morning, when I got to the Birmingham Mail, my first stop was the toilets! But for that four years, I really enjoyed it.

Were your parents proud that you were going out to work?
Yes. My mother worked for quite a long time at the Austin Motor Works. During the war time she was making ammunitions. She was very happy there but, unfortunately, she did suffer with epilepsy, so there were periods when she didn't work.
She did try to get me a little job up there. I worked there for six weeks and thought that I had permanently lost my hearing, because of the noise from the engines. I just could not get over the volume of noise. One day, the man who was in charge of the area that I was in said, ˜There's a policeman outside for you! And it was just to tell me that my husband had fallen and broken his leg, playing tennis. And I was never so glad in all my life, because I thought, That's it! I can stop work! Because the noise was horrendous!
And that was the very first time that I understood where the saying came from, 'throwing a spanner in the works', because that is literally what happened. The conveyor belts with all the engines on, if there were too many waiting for pieces or parts, somebody would "accidentally" drop something on the track and stop the track, and everybody would have to sit and wait til the engineer came to fix the track. It happened very often. Out came the newspaper and the cups of tea as a break from the noise.

What was the Birmingham Mail office like?
I was on the first floor. The ground floor was mainly the offices where people came in to put adverts in or order something. The basement was where all the presses were. I think I only went down there once because it was too dangerous, really, for people to roam around. Enormous great machines and the noise of the presses going through! Again, it was the noise that seemed to get to you. I don't know how the people who worked in there managed.

Did you have your own desk?
Great long, long desk with an enormous book of all the names of the little local shops. And a lot of the smaller shops were rural and the names of the places used to fascinate me!

Would you have done the same thing all day long?
It was all handwritten, not printed. I'd transfer the names and addresses onto the next page, adding new agents and deleting those that had given up. I'd rewrite the record maybe a couple of times a week, depending on what was happening. But it was a very happy place to work, everyone was very pleasant. Basically, I think it was pleasant because it was mainly men. They called a spade a spade and they didn't hold any grudges against anyone. They told you exactly what to do and you did it. If you made a mistake, they told you straight off, but that was the end of the argument.

What did you do with your lunch hour?
Right opposite, there was a little café© and I used to go across there.
Sometimes one of the men, he was a younger man, would come with me. And we would just sit and chat about anything other than work. We wanted a break from it. With him it would be football; with me it was mainly art. It was just half an hour. Because we had a half an hour break mid-morning too, coffee, and that was brought round to us. That was nice! I think it was a young man, because it's rarely that you saw any other women there. Only in the office on the ground floor. They were behind the desks there. Secretaries, typists.
And then, mid-afternoon, four o'clock, we'd have a cup of tea. Stop work and chat in groups. "Put your pencils down". The rulers were round, like a baton. No markings on them. You'd use it with your ledger to draw the lines and keep the margin.

Did you come into contact with the bosses of the firm?
The head of our department was a lovely man. His name was Mr. Jessop. He was a very fair man. Very nice. He'd just stroll around, not interfere. The desks were in long rows. I was up by the window and there was another gentleman at this end of the desk, doing very much the same thing, but with the "Sports" side of the paper. And then behind me, there'd be another long desk with two gentlemen there, and that's how it was, all the way down the office room and then down the other side. It was a big, long room, yes.

Did people work silently?
Yes. Very quiet. Sometimes somebody would shout an order, "Have you got this?", or "Do you know that? But that would be all you'd hear. No music playing or anything like that.

What were the other blokes on your floor doing?
The Daily Mail and I think the partner of that was the Daily Express, so I think they were all in conjunction, you know? It was all to do with the printing of the paper.

Did you get a free paper, as an employee?
Yes. We'd pick it up on the way out, going home at night. Because the paper was sent out and distributed out to the various shops around four, five o'clock at night. Well, we left work at five o'clock, so we could pick our paper up at the desk on the way out.

Did you read it on the tram ride home?
Usually, yes. And when I got home, my husband and parents would read the paper.
Did the Birmingham Mail come in tabloid format?
No. It was a very large paper. There were lots of adverts in the papers. If you wanted to look down the adverts, the best thing was to lay on the floor and lay down and read it, because it was such a large, large paper. There were, I think, eight pages. Sitting on the tram to read it, you would have to fold it and fold it, otherwise the person next to you would be pushed off the seat. Or they too could read it at the same time.

Did people often read papers on the way home?
Yes. They had street vendors and they hadn't got little huts like they do now. They'd just got a bag around their neck, standing on the corner and selling the paper that way.

How were the papers picked up from the office?
In smaller vans. They were in the same road, further up the road from the main offices. And there was a big entrance there where all the vans were kept. The vans belonged to the Birmingham Mail. The name was on the van.

Were there competitor papers?
Yes, The Despatch. They were in the centre of Birmingham.

Did you ever get bored at work?
Sometimes. If things were quietened down, I would get bored and that's when I would perhaps go round and stand and talk to the other men in the office or, if they were busy, I'd watch what they were doing. And if all that failed, I used to stand at the window and see what was going on outside.

What could you see from the window?
The little café© opposite and a gentlemen's outfitters next door. On a Wednesday afternoon, my husband had Wednesday afternoons off and he used to sit in that café©, and he used to wait for me to finish work. And we would have something to eat and we'd go to the Odeon cinema. He used to go into the gentleman's outfitters next door and have a little wander round there as well. It was a very narrow little street, one way, and that was the way the vans came out and onto the main New Street. No room for cars to park or anything like that.

So were you working with men who had been involved in the World War?
No, I don't think any of them had been in the Forces. They were a little older than me but not much. It was a young office.

Was it an optimistic time, the late forties?
Yes, I think everybody thought, well, there's got to be a new start now, a fresh start. The war's over. We've got to rebuild and start all over again. People were very optimistic. Still struggling with rationings and sorts but the trauma of it was over, so it was just a matter of rebuilding. Lots of bombings. There was a lot to rebuild.

What stories would the paper have printed at the time?
Mainly casualties and rebuilding buildings that had been destroyed. Old buildings. And how fortunate it was that some of them had been missed.

Did people recycle the newspapers in those days?
Not that I was aware of, no. And so many papers!

Did the newsprint come off in your hands?
Yes, definitely! The ink was virtually still wet! It made a bit of a mess of your hands!

Did you used to wear gloves in those days?
No, I don't remember anyone wearing gloves then! Only when you went out! I wouldn't be seen without a hat, gloves, shoes, all to match. Even to the cinema. But not to work.

What did you wear to work?
It wasn't done for ladies to wear trousers, unless you were in the Forces, of course, so it was skirts. It wasn't a uniform, you could wear what you liked. It was ladylike to wear a skirt.

Did you have an interview to get your job?
Yes, I went and saw Mr. Cann. He asked me what experience I'd had and I said, well, I'd worked in the offices at Triplex, the glass manufacturers – so I did know a little bit about figures etc. so it was a matter of, yes, fine, start on Monday!"
I didn't know what job I was going to look for, so I applied to an agency, and they just sent me to The Mail. And I assume that The Mail would pay the agency the first week or months money.

Did you used to think about climbing the career ladder?
No. I was very laid back in that respect. I was quite happy doing what I was doing. I didn't ever think further forward.

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